For a fresh and healthy summer recipe, you’ll love my chicken pesto pasta salad! It’s full of great flavors, packed with veggies, and topped with simple grilled thighs.
Are you ready for some more fun grilled recipes? Ones with plenty of veggies too? And of course great Mediterranean flavors! Me too! It’s time to put aside our winter comfort foods and dive into a plate of roasted caprese salad or spring panzanella or this yummy salad.
Yep, summer is on its way for me here and I’ve been loving this dinner recipe! It has everything I want for summer. Easy, fast, great made ahead, and not weighed down by heavy sauces. What more could I ask for?
How to make this
To make chicken pesto pasta salad toss cooked pasta and vegetables with pesto sauce and pasta water, then top with grilled chicken and toasted pine nuts.
1. Grill the chicken
I get things started by salting the chicken and then setting it aside while I get organized, do the prep, and heat the grill. This gives the meat a little time to brine before I cook it, which gives it better flavor and helps keep it juicy. (If I’m organized I pull out the package and salt the chicken in the morning.)
Once the chicken is salted and the grill is hot, grill the thighs, turning once, until cooked through. Take it off the grill and let it rest for a few minutes, then slice it up.
2. Cook the pasta and asparagus
While the grill is heating, get the pot of water going. Then add the pasta, taking 2 minutes off the time on the package. (If it says the pasta will cook in 10 minutes, set your timer for 8 minutes!) Then add the asparagus and set the timer for that last 2 minutes.
Here’s an important bit: Scoop out some water from the pot just before you drain!
3. Toss everything together
Take your hot pasta and asparagus and toss it with the pesto, balsamic, and some of that water you saved. Stir vigorously to make sure everything is incorporated and that heat of the noodles can bring the sauce and water together. This will give you a sauce which will cling to the pasta.
At this point you can toss all the rest of the ingredients in, or lay them all on top, or do a little bit of each. Up to you! I do think that the pine nuts on top at least is nice so you can see them.
Variations to try
- Use other vegetables such as: sliced summer squash, broccoli, chopped eggplant, or thinly sliced bell peppers
- Grill, roast, or saute the vegetables to add another layer of flavor
- Add some mayonnaise to the pesto to make a creamy sauce for the pasta
- Make a variation in place of the usual basil pesto
If you try my recipe for Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad, I would love to hear from you in the comments with your experience and rating! And I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
– Happy Eating, Annemarie
Chicken Pesto Pasta Salad
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- kosher salt and black pepper
- 16 oz fusilli, or other short pasta such as penne or rotini
- 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
- 1 cup prepared pesto
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2-3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- fresh basil leaves, optional
- Liberally sprinkle the chicken thighs with kosher salt and few grinds of black pepper. Let it brine while you prep the rest of dinner.
- Preheat your grill to high heat.
- Grill the thighs on high for 5-6 minutes, then turn grill for another 5-6 minutes, or until they are about 165F in the middle.
- Set the chicken aside to rest and cool.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions minus 2 minutes.
- Add the asparagus and cook the pasta and asparagus together for 2 minutes.
- Scoop out about 1 cup of water from the pot then drain and transfer the pasta and asparagus to a large bowl.
- Add the pesto, balsamic vinegar, and about 1/4 cup of the reserved water to the bowl. Toss to coat everything with the pesto sauce. Spash in more water a little at a time if you need it until you have a smooth and silky sauce.
- Add the tomatoes and mix in.
- Transfer the chicken to a cutting board and slice into bite sized pieces. Arrange it over the top of the pasta salad.
- Sprinkle the pine nuts over it all. Add some basil leaves if desired. Serve.
- Toasting the pine nuts: Toast the pine nuts at 325F for 3-4 minutes. Keep a close eye since they burn easily.
- Brining the chicken: For the best flavor, salt the chicken in the morning or the night before and let it brine in the fridge.
- Pesto: For a quick dinner, use store bought pesto. If you want to use homemade, this recipe is wonderful with my Homemade Green Olive Pesto.
- Cheese: If you would like some cheese in the pasta salad, I would recommend using fresh mozzarella, either diced or some of those small cherry sized balls.